Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Florida tomato growers drop opposition to funding wage increases with money from tomato buyers

The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange has dropped its opposition to passing along higher wages from grocery stores and restaurants to migrant workers, starting a program to increase wages for tomato pickers. The exchange had challenged agreements between the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and companies such as Burger King, Subway, McDonald's and Whole Foods that would pass along an extra penny per pound from such companies as wage increases, Elaine Walker of The Miami Herald reports. Those agreements had never been implemented because the growers refused to participate. (See our most recent item from September.)

"This is an opportunity to partner with our customers and meet their social accountability needs,'' Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the FTGE, which represents growers of about 75 percent of the tomatoes grown in Florida, told Walker. Under the new program "each restaurant or retail chain will decide on a weekly 'supplemental wage' payment to be made to the grower based on the amount of Florida tomatoes it purchased," Walker writes. "The payment will also include an additional 15 percent for administrative, insurance and payroll tax expenses."

Growers will then divide the total money among the migrant workers on the payroll for that week. "Two years ago, the (growers) testified before the U.S. Senate that the penny-per-pound raise was not just impossible, but illegal," Lucas Benitez, co-founder of the workers' group, said in a statement. "Today they are embracing the program and calling it their own. But while a wage increase is important, it can't be a license for continued labor abuse." Benitez was not convinced the new program was a cure-all: "The growers' code leaves the foxes squarely in charge of the henhouse, and sadly, Florida tomato growers have never demonstrated the ability to police themselves.'' (Read more)

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